On September 26th and 27th, the final race of the season, the eighth round of Japanese Championship Formula NIPPON, was held at Sportsland SUGO (Miyagi Prefecture), an international racing course located in Tohoku region. Drivers' champion and the team champion had already been decided at the previous round to No.31 Loic Duval and NAKAJIMA RACING, respectively, but the decision for the Rookie of the year was carried over to the final round.
No.31 Loic Duval
Formula NIPPON adopts the knock-out qualifying system, which is also conducted in Formula One, where the qualifying is divided into three sessions and slower drivers of each session fall out as sessions progressed. Continuing their momentum from domination over both championships, NAKAJIMA RACING duo, Duval and No.32 Takashi Kogure, battled for the pole position. Kogure had no need to go for a push-to-the-limit run and easily placed himself on the second spot in Q1. Duval was on top. In Q2, Kogure ousted the top position from Duval with a new track record. The time Kogure recorded, 1 min 06.322 sec, broke the Sportsland SUGO's fastest time among all category of 1 min 06.514, recorded by Jaguar XJR14 (Teo Fabi) in 1991. It seemed that Kogure was going to continue his superb performance to grab the pole, but he made a little mistake in Q3 which gave Duval his fourth pole position of the season. Two drivers fighting for the Rookie of the year, No.10 Koudai Tsukakoshi (HFDP RACING), who leads the contention by 5 points, secured third position and No.37 Kazuya Oshima (PETORNAS TOM'S) got sixth position on the starting grid.
Qualifying Top 3 - 2nd: No.32 Takashi Kogure / PP: No.31 Loic Duval / 3rd: No.10 Koudai Tsukakoshi
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In contrast to the favorable weather during the qualifying session held on the day before, race day started out its morning with cloudy weather. Light drizzle fell on the track off and on just before the race, but the track was still dry with air temperature at 18 degrees and track temperature at 22 degrees when the race started. All cars started the race with slick tires.
No.36 Andre Lotterer Pole sitter No.31 Duval lost his edge at the start and allowed second qualifier No.32 Takashi Kogure to take away the lead. At the end of Lap 1, Kogure was on top followed by Duval, Tsukakoshi, and No.8 Hiroaki Ishiura.
On Lap 7, when the race hasn't even finished the early stage, the rain started to fall in full swing. By the time it reached Lap 10, the track surface gradually got wet, and many cars on the track began to go loose at corners. Kogure made an early decision and came back to the pits to change his tires to the rain-tires. Getting back on the lead, Duval and other two drivers behind him, Tsukakoshi at second and Ishiura at third, superbly controlled their slippery machines and showcased some fantastic battle for the top position.
No.20 Kohei Hirate Nonetheless, there was not much difference in the lap times between slick tires and rain-tires in the track condition for about ten laps, making it difficult to make any decisions. Starting from ninth position on the grid, No.2 Benoit Treluyer kept on running with slick tires and charged fiercely to put him to the forth position. Seeing Treluyer's run or not, Kogure rushed back to the pits to put slick tires back on his car. But the rain got harder again after few laps, giving enough reason for Kogure to come back again to the pits to mount back rain-tires for another time. The confusion created by the Mother Nature forced Kogure out from the contention for the win.
On Lap 23, leader Duval also switched his tires to the rain-tires. For a while, a fierce battle had developed between the top 3, Tsukakoshi with Lotterer and Treluyer trailing behind, but Lotterer and Tsukakoshi came in to change their tires for the rain. With the rivals going in for pit-stops, Treluyer, holding on with the slick tires, became the leader of the pack. However, it didn't last for too long after Duval, who got the rain-tires on his wheels, overtook Treluyer to regain the leading position. Nevertheless, Treluyer kept on running with slick tires and showed his state-of-the-art driving and braking around the corner, which lightened up the crowd on the stands. Despite the rooting from the spectators, his lap times were clearly below the marks of the cars with rain-tires and he gradually descended down the racing order.
No.10 Koudai Tsukakoshi In the final stage of the race, the gap between Duval at top and Lotterer in behind had extended wide to about 17 seconds. At 5 laps to go, Duval got held back behind backmarkers and suddenly lost his lead over Lotterer, but he managed to stay in front and crossed the finish line first, wrapping up the last round of his crowning season with fourth win of the year.
No. 8 Hiroaki Ishiura
No.37 Oshima kazuya
Lotterer finished second and completed the season with third ranking. Gaining advantage over such a difficult situation, No.20 Kohei Hirate came all the way back from 12th position on the starting grid and took away the last place on the podium. Treluyer, who had competed against Duval for the championship this season, finished out of points at ninth position, but, with Kogure sinking at tenth finish, managed to settle down at second best in the drivers' ranking.
No.10 Tsukakoshi once set the crowd alight when he sat on the leading position for a while, but his strategy to purposely delay the timing of tire change turned out unfavorable and, also, he span at a corner, which all caused him to lose his position down to eighth position for one point. But, at the end of the day, he earned a fourth finish with his effort to push hard in the final stage of the race. With No.37 Oshima finishing the race at sixth position, the Rookie of the Year fell in the hands of Tsukakoshi, who had successfully scored points at five races this season.
2nd: No.36 Andre Lotterer / Winner: No.31 Loic Duval / 3rd: No.20 Kohei Hirate
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